Letter "To a Future Woman in Tech" Hopes for Long Ladies' Room Lines at Conferences

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Feb. 13 2013 12:47 PM

Letter "To a Future Woman in Tech" Hopes for Long Ladies' Room Lines at Conferences

153788979
Are we on the verge of a breakthrough for women in tech?

Photo by FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

Stacey Mulcahy, who is currently a lead developer at the digital creative agency Big Spaceship, has been in the tech industry since 2001. So when her now 8-year-old niece, who is obsessed with “anything Mario Brothers,” called to say that she wants to design video games when she grows up, Mulcahy wasn’t surprised. She was, however, a little worried. “I lay awake, thinking about her future career choice, about how things are now, and how much I wish I could change them for her,” she writes. From that came “To a Future Woman in Tech,” which she posted this week.

In the open letter, Mulcahy writes, “I hope that being a female developer will cease to be a novelty. I hope that you attend conferences and find yourself complaining about long lines for the bathroom. … I hope that when you attend a meeting that is mostly male, that you never get asked why you are not taking meeting notes. I hope you say ‘fuck this’ more than ‘it's okay’.”

The advice and fears she shares, Mulcahy told me in an email, stem from her own experiences—like people assuming she’s “a project manager or designer.” But for all the bad, Mulcahy says that she wrote this in part to let “people know that things are changing” for the better, such as at her own workplace. She has had a lot of support from male colleagues in the industry. In the letter, she writes about the irritating phenomenon of adding “female” as a descriptor before a woman in tech’s job title. But, she told me, she’s received tweets from people suggesting that that isn’t as much of a problem any more.

The tech industry has come under fire for decades for sexism, and the problem continues—hence the “brogrammerdiscussions of 2012 or the “booth babe” criticisms targeting the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show. (It would take a depressingly long time to list all of the recent dustups here.) But Mulcahy’s letter is noteworthy because while she wrote it out of concern, she also sees it as a message of hope, not condemnation.

Longer women’s bathroom lines at tech conferences would be a small price to pay for progress.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Torie Bosch is the editor of Future Tense, a project of Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State that looks at the implications of new technologies. Follow her on Twitter.